Sunday, September 18, 2011

Movie with Abe: Happy, Happy

Happy, Happy
Directed by Anne Sewitsky
Released September 16, 2011

There’s something about a blanket of snow that just helps to enhance the feel of a film. The snow doesn’t have to be malicious, as in “First Snow,” or help to cover up violent acts, as in “Fargo.” In some cases, it can just help to isolate, to make it so that there might as well only be a few people alive in the world. In “Happy, Happy,” this year’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film from Norway, two couples live in adjacent homes far from anyone else, and their interactions become anything but normal as their private lives are slowly revealed in the most fascinating of manners.

Mike Leigh’s Sally Hawkins-led “Happy-Go-Lucky” is a good point of reference from which to frame Kaja, the protagonist of “Happy, Happy.” Like Hawkins’ Poppy, Kaja is eternally bubbly and talkative, determined to see the best in any situation. But unlike Poppy, Kaja’s optimism is not impermeable, since she is covering up an immense loneliness due to her husband Erik’s refusal to touch her and her spirit of adventure not being fulfilled. The arrival of neighboring couple Sigve and Elisabeth brings out a whole range of emotions in Kaja that, at least temporarily, helps her to find some joy in other people.

“Happy, Happy” boasts a cast of characters of only four adults, but they’re all incredibly intriguing and well-defined personalities, as portayed by the strong Scandivian actors in the roles. Agnes Kittelsen is mesmerizing as the sunny Kaja, whose eyes and body language convey a yearning for excitement. Joachim Rafaelsen is icy and distant as Erik, but still manages to make the character three-dimensional. Henrik Rafaelsen presents a laidback front as Sigve that helps to put the rest of the characters as ease, and it’s clear that he’s capable of taking himself seriously even if he sometimes makes the wrong choices. Maibritt Saerens quickly establishes Elisabeth as an elitist snob of sorts, but that just makes her character all the more dynamic and enticing.

In the background of the marital mixing and matching that inevitably happens with the adults, there is a disturbing subplot involving the couples’ children, wherein Kaja and Erik’s son Theodor pretends that Ethiopian-born Noa, adopted son of Sigve and Elisabeth, is his slave. It’s most notable for the fact that the parents, concerned far too much with their own intersecting lives, seem entirely oblivious to it. That tidbit casts the film in the wrong light, since it is very much an layered, engaging and often entertaining portrait of two couples searching for something that they aren’t able to give each other. Nestled comfortably in the peacefulness of snow, it’s all the more moving and enjoyable.


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